A middle-aged woman, Elisa, who was an orphan, and has damaged vocal cords, has lived her life as a mute. Currently, she lives next to an artist, Giles, who is a closeted homosexual, and one of her best friends is this sassy, talkative Black woman, Zelda, who she cleans with at a giant lab. For the most part, despite all the innovation going around her, days are rather dull. She spends some time with Giles before and after work, listens to Zelda complain about her husband all day, and repeat.
Making the discovery of this amphibious being from the Amazon River, one spoken of as if it is a God, a catalyst to a more interesting, and ultimately fulfilling, life. However, this being, who during the film’s Cold War era is seen as something to perhaps further Americans getting to the moon, isn’t treated as some sort of God. To Mr. Strickland, he is something to just be dissected for what he is worth and with hearing this, so begins a rescue mission by Elisa. Someone who doesn’t just end up befriending this amphibious, never named, being, but falls in love with it.
Question(s) Left Unanswered
I’m not 100% sure why Octavia Spencer has been getting acting nominations for this when she seems to be barely in the movie. If not just hardly seems impactful
You know, a lot of performances are reliant on conveying things through sound. Monologs or back and forths which express a person’s power, vulnerability, flaws, and insecurities. But for Elisa, she was mute. So Hawkins had to express this all through sign language, which has its own passion, and also through her face and being. Thus crafting a very different experience when it comes to you connecting with the character.
Yes, she has a sob-worthy backstory of someone likely damaging her vocal chords, hence her being mute. Also, her growing up in an orphanage surely is a sad backstory. Yet, despite that, she seems happy. Ultimately we learn she wasn’t fulfilled, despite enjoying listening and interacting with Giles and Zelda, but she was some form of happy. But when the amphibious god comes in, and she starts connecting with him, things shift. Strangely, you never think about the idea of her having inter-species sex with this thing for you have become so invested that you’re just happy this woman found love. Especially considering she has the same outlook of herself as Emily in A Christmas Prince, in the sense of feeling incomplete or broken.
Yet, with the amphibious god of the Amazon not seeing her that way, so there is hope.
It Addresses What Each Character Is Without Making It The Sum of Who They Are
As Octavia Spencer mentions in her interview with Sam Jones, within The Off Camera Show [YouTube], there is an issue a lot of performers like her have. One in which, after they become known for something, they get typecast. If not, because they aren’t a white male, what makes them not one gets honed in on and becomes the basis of their character.
However, that isn’t the case with any character here. Zelda being Black might be part of her story since it is the civil rights era, but her life isn’t all about Black issues and what Dr. King said. She more so talks about how difficult or lazy her husband is. We see her more worry about Elisa or talking about how nasty all these educated men are. Her being Black is only a thing when someone else brings up her being Black.
The same thing goes with Giles being gay. Do we see him try to pursue a young man? Yup. However, his character is more focused on his art, trying to get his career back on track, and old musicals than anything dealing with his sexuality. Heck, even with Elisa being mute being the core of her character, she doesn’t really get “othered” that much for it. Like someone who has a foreign accent, Zelda and the rest are very well acclimated to it. And while, yeah, most of them have seemingly learned sign language to understand her, they treat those who don’t get her as the weird ones rather than her. Which brings about a sort of sweetness in a way.
On The Fence
A Rather Basic Villian
Big picture wise, the villains would be the Russian and American governments who are escalating tensions for an impending battle. Thus making Mr. Strickland and General Hoyt just stooges. If not, better worded, soldiers just handling the missions given to them. With that in mind, it makes even Mr. Strickland’s racially charges wording of things, or abuse of the amphibious god, only a big deal since he is the visible bad guy. But, with it being clear there is someone over him, likely over Hoyt, but that person not being seen, after a certain point, you just roll your eyes.
Especially as you realize how someone like Elisa, and a few others, were able to pull one over on him. Thus pushing an almost Star Wars: The Last Jedi vibe of this overly emotional villain, who is too cocky for their own good, seeming like they are but the placeholder for the real baddie.
Overall: Positive (Worth Seeing)
What I love about The Shape of Water is that it is the rare film which doesn’t seem like it wants to leave room for a sequel. With that in mind, it feels like we are given a complete story. One in which each character is given a bit of an arc and doesn’t come off as someone just introduced for now so they could do what is needed for the lead and maybe developed later on. In one, admittedly long, movie, you get everything you’ll need to say your ticket was worth the price. Hence the positive label.